Accessibility Encompasses Many Varieties of Accommodations
It seems as though accessibility has become a catchphrase, encompassing everything from lawsuits to building construction. Every day, accessibility is something that gets shoved into the foreground, and people are left wondering what it actually is. Further complicating the issue are the numerous facets of accessibility. In order to address accessibility, it must be first determined what kind of accessibility is being discussed. For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on web, or tech, accessibility.
We Will Focus on Tech, or Web Accessibility
Tech accessibility is not a spectacular display of website navigation gymnastics, but is rather functional in nature. When properly designed, tech accessibility allows everyday people to go about their business, living productive and meaningful lives. It is estimated that 19 percent of the American population currently lives with a disability, and that number is only expected to grow as the general population ages.
It is surprising, considering the aging population, that accessibility has taken a backseat in social justice issues. With the development of technology and the internet, tech accessibility should be leading the way in innovation; providing people with ease of access to live their lives. There is no denying that there have been great gains in tech accessibility, but there is still a lot more work to be done. Perhaps it is because people are just not aware of what tech accessibility can actually do. One very simple yet significant task it allows for is online banking.
Online Banking Functions Can and Should be Accessible
Data as far back as 2010 indicates that 80 percent of the American population conducts banking services online. Let’s look at bill payment as a perfect example of how tech accessibility can easily improve a mundane task, and allow a person with a visual disability to be independent.
Gone are the days of standing in line at the bank teller. Banks have moved to online platforms, to improve the quality of experience for their clients. People have 24-hour access to their funds and can do pretty much whatever they want with their money. A person can even apply for a mortgage online – no need to step foot in a brick and mortar location.
This is where things become complicated. Banks, in general, assume all of their clients have 24-hour access to their accounts. Unfortunately, this assumption couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Real World Experience from a User with a Vision Impairment
Take me, for example. I am a completely blind, elite para-triathlete living independently on my own with my two dogs.
Sure, an athlete isn’t exactly the highest-grossing bank client, but I still need to perform grown-up things such as paying my bills. Because I am completely blind, I have opted for online payment, but as mentioned above, this supposedly stress-free experience of paying online just doesn’t exist for me. I use a screen reading software that has been specifically designed for Mac’s operating system. The software in and of itself is quite functional and reliable, however, it cannot compensate for inaccessibly designed websites and/or apps.
One of the most basic and consequently most important design flaws is inaccurate labeling. How frustrating is it for someone who can drive when they are attempting to find a specific location and there are inadequate street signs and markers? If you are someone who can drive, tap into that frustration and that is exactly how I feel when I’m trying to perform something as simple as a page search, but can’t because the web designer has forgotten to label the search box. I can waste precious time randomly typing my search term into any edit field I find, but think of how many rabbit holes that sends me down.
The search box example is relatively benign and mostly just annoying, but what about when I’m attempting to pay bills or transfer large amounts of money? I could guess what edit field is related to my cell phone bill or which one is my rent payment. However, suddenly I’m overpaid on my cell phone by $13.00, and I’m incredibly short on my rent payment.
Try explaining to your landlord why you can’t pay rent that month.
Inaccurate or lack of labeling on websites has dire, real-life consequences.
When Screen Readers Can’t Function on a Website
Another inconvenient and potentially detrimental website accessibility design flaw is the inability for screen reading software (the software that allows people with visual disabilities to navigate websites) to interact with features of the site.
Successfully entering information into an edit box, for example, dictates whether or not someone can perform the simple task of paying their bills. I can type numbers until my fingers fall off, but if the website is not designed to allow for screen reading software to interact with edit fields, I’m not going to accomplish anything; except maybe losing a few fingertips.
Where is the Submit Button?
Just as problematic, users have reported the inability to click the necessary buttons to complete tasks. Imagine you’ve taken 25 to 30 minutes to fill out an important banking form, and when you reach the end you are not able to hit the submit button. You can hit enter or the space bar as many times as you want, but no matter what method you use the form will not submit.
Not only have you wasted your time, but you also are not able to complete the task you have set out to finish. And all that stands between you and refinancing your mortgage is one little button.
This happens more often than not, forcing me to rely on friends or family to help me complete banking tasks that I am otherwise capable of completing on my own.
Add in the problems of cursors jumping around the website and the inaccessibility of most CAPTCHAs, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for inaccessible banking websites. Have you ever tried to listen to the audible version of the CAPTCHA? If it happens to play, the auditory version is so garbled and requires such accuracy that I’m often stuck trying to get past the CAPTCHA for the better part of 20 minutes.
This is definitely not a good use of my time; especially when my efforts are fruitless (refer back to the inability to click necessary buttons). Once again, a user is left frustrated and relying on others just to complete tasks they are otherwise capable of completing.
The Impact of Accessibility and Inaccessibility
The aforementioned inaccessibility issues are but a snapshot of what someone may experience when attempting to perform something as simple as an online bill payment. Ultimately, accessibility is not about a person’s abilities, but rather focuses on providing the right tools that will ultimately facilitate the possibility for independence.
If I were to ask you to make me soup, but didn’t give you a pot, how would you make soup? Your soup-making skills still exist, you just don’t have the tools to perform the task. The same reasoning applies to accessibility. The tech world is always progressing, and web accessibility is the perfect opportunity for advancement and progression.